PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- I'm not a complainer by nature, not at all. I don't gripe about primetime television becoming a lowest-common denominator toilet, or that Kenny G did a lite-jazz cover of James Blunt's "You're Beautiful," unknowingly creating the audio skeleton-key to hell's gates in the process. I don't kvetch about how impossible it is to find 40-long suits in stores, much less pants in 32x34. And I don't even bitch about the fact that I've spawned cheap imitations
No, there really wasn't too much to complain about in 2006 in Hoops Nation&trade, with mid-major basketball exploding everywhere like little toy cannons filled with delicious candy. Programs outside the 50 or so that you always hear about are winning games against those programs, and it's happening more often. The game, our game, continues to prove its resilience against me-first selfishness and blingonomics with teams like Butler, which slays giants by finding open shooters and doing little things like making free throws and keeping turnovers low.
And did I mention George Mason? George Mason. The Patriots became the first outsiders in nearly three decades to make the Final Four this past March, putting an end to the myth (perpetuated in part by yours truly) that a Sweet 16 berth is a sliding-scale "national championship" for a mid-major program.
With every movement, however, comes a counter-movement; with every trend there's a backlash. There are already signs of "mid-major fatigue" and "enough about the damn Valley already" in the major media, and this was inevitable. People are sick of mid-major this and small-market that, and both you and I saw this coming. As such, I recognize that my job will never be over, and that my road will always be uphill.
What the backlashers are doing, other than secretly wishing for an NCAA Champions League, is missing the point. These emerging schools and these teams didn't emerge from some magical cornfield or somebody's ass -- they've always been there, they've just been underserved until they started winning, and trust me, they'll be underserved again if and when they stop winning. The real story is not a "mid-major revolution," it's that there's been this huge rock under which over 200 teams have been hiding, and now it's been lifted so that the underside can be examined. Attention-deficit basketball is not what I'm about, that's not what this site is about, and I'll keep trying to stay as big-picture as possible.
You see, if you enjoy watching sports for the adrenaline rush of the "action," you're going to be disappointed in the long run -- the repetition is going to get to you eventually. The experience of spectating spectator sports, at its best, is like observing a slowly-unfolding puzzle attempt to solve itself. In order to get your attention quickly, some outlets would try to feed you soap opera storylines (and if you fall for those, what's differentiates your habit from your wife's "Days Of Our Lives" addiction?). But the real beauty of sports is that there's continuity, endless gears within gears, complexity on the far side of simplicity.
And in American college basketball, we have the biggest, most complex and most beautiful puzzle of all. Over 330 teams, each with a theoretical shot at a National Championship, one that everybody in America recognizes ad knows about, each with different challenges and obstacles, different goals set at different parts of the ladder, and a different way of solving the problem at hand: winning basketball games with a set amount of available resources. I find that fascinating, and if you've read this far and for this long you probably do too.
So that's what my job is, and what this site's goal is, to describe this struggle in as much detail as possible in as many ways as possible. I'll continue to try to cover Tennessee-Martin and Arkansas-Pine Bluff with the same fervor as Drexel or Creighton, and pay them all visits, regardless of record. Winning is what everyone wants to do, and that's what gets people's attention, but losing interestingly can be informative as well. Especially if the lessons learned during those times leads to success later.
So thanks, 2006, for all the lessons as well as for the abundance of hoops glory; let's see what 2007 has in store.